Jaemin found Jeno in a time of elation.
Jeno had wanted, needed so badly that scholarship for the dance academy—top in Seoul and all of Asia, and his dream university since he was eight. His parents refused to support a career as unstable as that, telling him he'd have to figure out a way to pursue it and finance himself if he wanted to. If he could prove that he had the aptitude and capability for that, then they would give him their full support.
Jeno had worked tirelessly ever since then. His life became a roulette between school and academics, dance, and juggling two part-time jobs. He barely slept, and had the lethargy and eyebags deep enough to fit the Mariana trench to show for it. Still, he pressed on with only one goal in mind, and he had now achieved it: a letter of acceptance into the academy, along with a scholarship based on the merit of his good grades and stellar performance in dance.
It was the soaring pride of achieving his goal of ten years, the culmination of years of sweat and tears, that left both Jaemin and Jeno, bound together by the soulmate link, with breathless exhilaration in their chests.
So when Jaemin first caught sight of him from across the dance studio on the second day at the academy, he knew straight away that he had found the one he was looking for. The chestnut-blonde stranger was laughing along to something his friends said, eyes crinkled into crescent moons and nose scrunched as he laughed wholeheartedly. It didn't even seem remotely funny—the rest of his friends were barely cracking smiles, and one of them punched his shoulder with a groan that sounded suspiciously like "no jam".
"You're in a good mood," Jaemin overheard his friend say.
"I'm feeling great," came Jeno's reply, and Jaemin's heart stopped as he looked up and their eyes locked. Jaemin could see the joy and mirth that had become so familiar to him reflected in the then-stranger's eyes. Jeno's eyes widened.
"That's why I've been on cloud nine, I suppose, and now that I've met my soulmate, it just gets even better." Jeno tells Jaemin a week later in the cafe behind the academy, as they share an ice cream between them like the broke college students they are.
Jaemin's got his chin rested on his fist and his elbows bracing the table as he watches his soulmate scoop up the ice cream with a fond smile. It's only been a week since they met, but he feels like he's in love already. "I'm glad you got what you worked so hard for, Jeno."
"What about you? How did you get into the academy?"
Jaemin smiles bashfully. "I was born to dance."
Jeno doesn't question that, just taking another spoonful of ice cream before passing the cup to Jaemin, who instead opens his mouth, eyes twinkling. Jeno, flushing, spoons a bit of ice cream into Jaemin's mouth before quickly looking away. "Cute."
"We recognised each other so easily," Jeno hums one day, voice rough from sleep as Jaemin cuddles into his chest. It's a Saturday and they were planning to go out and spend some time together outdoors, maybe have a picnic—but one look at the downpour outside and Jaemin had pulled Jeno back into bed with him, snuggling into his warmth amidst the soft sheets and endless plush toys the younger owned. Jaemin yawns, lifting his head. "Mm?"
"Mark hyung and Hyuck took a year to recognise each other." Jeno offers as means of explanation. "They were best friends for a year, but they didn't realise they shared a soulmate link until recently. They thought it was just a best friend thing, to feel when the other feels... until Mark flew back to Canada for a while and even then Hyuck was so in tune with Mark's feelings that he could tell Mark what he was feeling even before Mark did."
Jaemin considers this for a moment, looking more alert as Jeno's fingers thread through his hair absentmindedly. He lives for, loves, the random moments when Jeno brings up topics like these, ones that make them think about their feelings. He lives for deep conversations, and the ambience is perfect for this.
"What if we had met each other under different circumstances? Say, if one of us were feeling really hurt?"
The first thought that comes to Jaemin's mind is that would have been messy. He's heard of stories of soulmates who'd simply not met each other at the right timings, who'd clashed so badly in unhealthy relationships despite the universe screaming at them that this is your damn soulmate, the one you are destined to be with, the best possible match for you. And he suddenly feels so, so grateful to have Jeno, and he tilts his head up to press a kiss to the chestnut-blonde's lips.
"Then it would have taken a longer time, but we would have worked out anyway."
"You think so?"
"I know so," Jaemin replies. "I saw you smiling, and it was so familiar... it was just the way I felt. If I saw you hurting, it would also be the same pain I'd be going through."
Jeno smiles, reaching out for his hand. Their fingers tangle together under the sheets unhurriedly, naturally, as they have for the past year since they started dating. Both their fingers are a bit slender, nodes pressing against each other's uncomfortably. And Jaemin has never held any other person's hand like this, with the pressure of love firm and reassuring on his palm, but he's sure that any hand but Jeno's wouldn't feel right.
"Did your parents yell at you again?"
"Don't lie, you were sad last night, weren't you?"
Jeno furrows his brows. "No, I wasn't."
Jaemin sighs, deciding to drop the topic as he burrows into his boyfriend's arms again, trusting him to take care of himself. Jeno has always been independent, and he knows he's felt the unwarranted pangs of sadness that can only be from his soulmate, but Jeno just won't admit that anything is wrong. "Just know I'm always here for you if there's anything, okay?"
"I know, but really, nothing is wrong. Don't worry, babe."
The day Jaemin wakes up with a splitting headache, a searing pain in his chest, and eighteen missed calls from his boyfriend is the day he knows something is seriously wrong. He sits up with a pained cry, head in his hands, and bursts into tears.
With shaky fingers, he dials his boyfriend's number, tears blurring his vision so much that it takes him a few tries to tap the right buttons.
It's pain unlike any he's felt before.
The line goes through almost immediately, not even completing the first ring, as if Jeno had been waiting by his phone. He probably had been. "J-Jeno-"
"Jaemin!" Relief floods through Jeno's voice, but he doesn't sound like he's doing much better than Jaemin. His voice is too deep for him not to have been crying, and he sounds so agitated. "Jaemin, what's wrong?"
"I-I'm," Jaemin hiccups, sniffing between words. "Okay. What happened?"
"What do you mean? I should be asking you that. I've been outside your door for ten minutes. Where are you?"
"Wait, wait—" Jaemin gets up weakly, throwing on a sweater before he runs out into the living room, phone still pressed to his tear-stained cheek as he rushes to open the door and flings himself into Jeno's arms, crying.
Jeno barely has time to slip his phone back into his pocket and open his arms before catching the pink-haired dancer, who has his arms wound tight around his neck.
"Shh, Jaemin, it's okay, I'm here now." But somehow, he doesn't feel better holding Jaemin, like he usually does when it's Jaemin's sadness taking over the emotions link. Jaemin always tells him he feels better with just a hug, and calms down significantly with Jeno around. For the first time, Jeno's presence isn't doing anything to soothe his boyfriend, and he feels helpless.
The despair in his own heart is almost consuming him too, and he blinks back tears of his own.
"Are you okay, Jeno?"
"Stop worrying about me—I told you to put yourself first when you need to. What's wrong, baby? Tell me what's wrong."
Jaemin frowns at him, tears shining in his eyes as his grip loosens. Jeno's heart cracks just a little. "I had a nightmare, and I just couldn't rouse from it, it was so bad, that's why I didn't pick up your calls o-or answer the door... but why are you so sad?"
"I'm sad because you're sad, idiot," Jeno says, but it's his turn to be confused. He feels like his entire being is about to shatter, and it's because of... a nightmare? Jeno can't imagine having a dream that bad, and pulls Jaemin closer. He's pushed away, however, by an equally confused Jaemin.
"But I don't have any reason to be sad. You're the one who's sad. Fuck, Jeno, it's so bad, I woke up crying and... I was so afraid something happened to you. Tell me what it is!"
Jeno blinks at him slowly, trying to process his words. "So... you're saying that nothing happened to you."
"Yes," Jaemin shoots back impatiently, wiping the tears from his eyes. He needs to be strong for his boyfriend.
"But nothing happened with me either."
"Then why are you crying?"
"You're crying too!"
Jeno's exhausted. He doesn't think he has any tears left to cry. Neither does Jaemin, who's now just staring into space with his fingers tightly clasped around a cup of now-cold coffee, looking lost and broken.
The shock had first come at seven a.m. in the morning, followed by an intense feeling of anxiety which morphed only minutes later into an agonising emotional pain. It was a swirl of frustration, longing and utter despair. Somewhere in between the worry and excruciating sadness, Jeno had ditched his morning workout routine, the sadness eating at him, along with worry for his boyfriend who wasn't picking up his calls, running all the way to Jaemin's house.
But Jaemin was fine, had really only awoken an hour after it all started, saying his nightmares had started somewhere around seven a.m. too, when he woke up to a gnawing ominious feeling before falling back into a restless sleep.
So where was this coming from? Jeno couldn't imagine anyone going through this amount of pain. He ran a frustrated hand through his hair, glancing over at Jaemin. "If it's not you... and it's not me..."
"I don't know, Jeno." Jaemin sighs for the umpteenth time upon hearing the same question Jeno had been asking all morning, eyes tired. "Maybe you have another soulmate, or something, but I'm feeling it too so... I guess that's not an option."
The younger male gets up, giving Jeno a curt nod. "I'm... going to go back to bed. I'd like to be alone, I think. But thanks for coming over."
I'd like to be alone. Jaemin had never said those words to him, had always reassured him that it was always better with his boyfriend around. Yet somehow, Jeno felt the same. He was drained of all energy, and couldn't find it in himself to feel hurt. He was only numb. Empty. Alone. "Me too. Sleep tight, Jaems."
I want to go home.
Renjun sits by the pier, legs dangling over the edge of the wooden boards. The sky is overcast, and he's cold, but at this point, he doesn't care any more. There's no point keeping warm when his heart is as cold as ice. Time heals everything, they said, and the attorney at the funeral had given him a sympathetic smile, telling him that with this money, everything would pick up again. Renjun could pick himself up again, and live even stronger with the memory of his family in his heart.
It's been two months since the accident that caused the lives of his entire family but him, when they'd decided to take a drive out of Seoul.
It's survivor's guilt, you should get over it quickly. Your parents wouldn't have liked to see you living like this.
Two months on, and Renjun hasn't been able to get over it quickly. He hasn't been able to live even stronger.
He hasn't been able to live at all.
I don't have a home.
He thinks about his friends, how worried they've been for him. He thinks about the time Kun had taken an entire day off work to restock his fridge and make him his favourite dishes, only for Renjun to not be able to take much more than a few bites. He thinks about the time Sicheng came in to clean his apartment because it was filled with food packets that Renjun simply didn't have the energy to throw, or papers that he couldn't find in himself to arrange, or clothes he didn't bother to wash. He thinks about the time Chenle and Jisung had sat on either side of him, forcing him to watch a comedy with them, the type that he'd always enjoyed, while they force-fed him some sandwiches. He thinks about how he must have rudely interrupted his soulmate's happiness with this deluge of sadness.
And I'm a burden anyway.
Deep down, he knows it's not true, that everyone wishes only for him to get better soon and be the Huang Renjun that they all know again, the one who choke holds them and comes up with unrivaled sarcastic comebacks. The one who talks for hours on end about how his soulmate has been feeling, coming up with different theories about it. The one who'd been top of every class, until now.
But that Renjun is dead.
It's better to go. Easier. There's nothing else for me, anyway.
He gets up slowly, and closes his eyes. No tears come.
His head tips forward, and he falls into the cold, cold water.
"I feel like dying today," Jaemin comments offhandedly, but Jeno picks up on the undercurrent of truth in his statement, can hear the defeat in his voice. After all, he feels the same. Ever since that day, nothing had been quite the same. The feeling of sadness wasn't always there, but it came so frequently that it might as well have been. As the days faded into weeks, despair turned into sadness, and sadness turned into despondency.
Both Jaemin and he now recognised that there had to be at least a third person factoring into their emotions link. A 'third soulmate, maybe', Donghyuck had said.
"Nonsense," Jeno replied then. "Who ever heard of having more than one soulmate?"
Jaemin had pursed his lips, eyes dull. "But why not? What else could explain it? We have a third party, probably another soulmate, and they need us more than we need each other."
The beat of silence stretches out as they walk down the pier together, fingers intertwined, a last-ditch effort to keep themselves sane under the crushing dejection riding the currents of the soulmate link. "Me too, Nana."
"I hope he's doing okay."
There's a loud splash, and Jaemin's head turns instinctively, eyes scanning the quiet sea. "What was that?"
Jeno shrugs. "Probably just a big fish, or something fell in."
"I don't see anybody. That was a big splash though." The sea is calm, and Jaemin can't see anything moving in the direction where the splash came from. He shakes his head, deciding it's nothing, before there's another splash, and then another.
He squints, before his eyes widen. Someone's drowning. He can barely make out the silhouette of a boy, but he's so far away, and he's flailing, thrashing about in the deep sea to keep himself afloat. Before he can even think, Jaemin's legs are already taking him down the pier, flying two, three steps at a time to reach the drowning boy, who is gasping now, taking deep, shuddering breaths as he inhales and inhales water, before being dragged under again.
Jaemin barely registers Jeno's thundering footsteps behind him in the rush of adrenaline, but he makes it there first, ripping his shirt off and diving in without a second thought.
"Oh god, he's waking up. Oh thank the fucking angels! Jeno, give him your jacket-"
Renjun opens his eyes groggily, before swiftly shutting them again after he's greeted by the blinding noon sun. His chest feels like it's on fire, and he coughs, sending water spewing into the air. He rolls onto his side, groaning as he keeps coughing up water. Someone pats his back, and a warm jacket encases him. Two soothing voices surround him, but he can't really focus on what they're saying.
When the coughs die down, Renjun is left only with dawning horror about what had happened—he had tried to kill himself, only to realise that no, he didn't want to die, he didn't want to let everybody down.
And so many conflicting feelings are running through his mind that he bursts into tears, embarrassingly, in front of the two boys who had saved him from drowning, thoughtlessly leaning into the warmth of the two pairs of arms around him.
Beside him, Jeno and Jaemin lock eyes, finding the grief of the boy between them reflected in both their eyes, and a grim smile is shared between them. Found you.
"I'm really fine, Jaemin," Renjun says, and it comes out as a petulant whine. Behind them, Jeno laughs, but Jaemin isn't having any of it. "You need to eat, Injun!"
"I literally just had lunc—"
He's cut off when Jaemin forcibly stuffs a spoonful of vegetables down his throat, the gross kind you get only in hospitals, and he has to chew, glaring daggers at the youngest of the three, who looks too smug about making Renjun eat. "Your friends said you haven't been eating much for the last two months, and the doctor prescribed five small meals a day, so it's time to make up for all the weight lost!"
Renjun feels his glare crumbling under Jaemin's adoring care, throwing a worried look at Jeno, who's just lounging in the couch beside Renjun's hospital bed, scrolling though something on his phone. It's almost unnerving, how two people who merely saved him are taking this much time and effort to make sure he gets better. They're supposedly boyfriends, but Renjun can't wrap his head around how affectionate they both are to him, and neither seem to have a problem with it.
He loves the attention, has been craving it even without knowing, but it feels wrong to him.
Jeno seems to catch Renjun's worried gaze, giving him a reassuring smile. "What's wrong, Injunnie?"
"Are you two really soulmates?"
This catches them both off guard, and Renjun watches as they share a glance between them, Jeno pocketing his phone and Jaemin putting down the bowl of food in his hands. "Yeah... we are."
"Then why..." Renjun groans inwardly. This is awkward. But some things need to be pointed out. "Jeno kissed me on the cheek yesterday, and cuddled me to sleep. Jaemin hasn't stopped hugging me since I said hi to him, and he keeps feeding me. And both of you are okay with that?"
"You're okay with that, right?" Jaemin says. He looks worried. Renjun can't, for the life of him, figure out why.
Of course he's okay with that. He's never felt so complete in his life, even before the accident. Jaemin and Jeno made it so easy to smile genuinely, when he hadn't cracked a single one since the passing of his family. Perhaps it was the realisation that he didn't want to die after all, but he felt lighter now, and Jaemin and Jeno were a big part of it.
"I do, I like having you two around but... why? I'm just a boy you saved." Please don't go.
Jeno's on his feet now, and Renjun gets butterflies in his stomach as the taller male crosses the room with determined strides, and is by his bedside in a second. In the next, he's gripping Renjun's chin, pulling him in for a kiss as Jaemin chuckles.
"You're our soulmate too, Huang, you dumbass."
"Can you believe it? Out baby is growing up," Renjun says excitedly, a hand full with the bouquet of flowers he's carrying, other occupied by Jaemin's, who refuses to let go. The pink-haired boy snorts.
"'Our baby' would be you, Injunnie. But yeah... I'm so proud of him. Getting into the showcase of the year, and all. We're only in freshman year in the academy!"
Renjun smiles a bit at that, remembering how much Jeno had talked about wanting to perform in the annual year-end showcase, Jaemin shutting him down with a "it's for sophomores and above to be talent scouted, Jen." Still, they had all seen how hard Jeno practiced to be recognised.
(They stayed in the dance studios past midnight, Renjun settled in a corner with his books to study for his college tests as Jaemin and Jeno danced. Eventually, Jaemin would call it a day and walk over to Renjun, only to fall asleep on his lap, but Jeno would continue until it hit two a.m. and his two lovers had to force him to stop. They would drag a protesting Jeno back to Renjun's apartment, for all of them to cuddle on the spacious bed.
They would fall asleep almost immediately, tired out from the long day, but always in the comfort of each other's presence.)
The lights dimmed, and the two boys clapped enthusiastically as the reverberation of a catchy bass line began, spotlight falling on Jeno. Renjun feels the breath knocked out of him as his boyfriend begins to move to the beat, moving with a charisma he doesn't see in the practice rooms. He elbows Jaemin in the ribs. "You didn't tell me he was doing the opening act! And solo! Oh my god. The talent scouts are going to be all over him and we'll never see him again—"
Jaemin silences him with a kiss on the lips, before leaning back in his seat again, eyes glued to Jeno. "Shush, you're being dramatic. He wanted it... to be a surprise for you."
Beside him, Renjun flushes a deep red, and as the music comes to a stop and Jeno throws a heart-stopping smile into the crowd, Renjun looks up at the spotlights, counting his lucky stars for his two soulmates.
e n d